Even if we don’t agree on a political candidate, we can certainly agree that over the years—and the last months especially—things have become increasingly divisive, polarized and sometimes even combative in political discussions. We’ve experienced this with friends, family and colleagues.
A new Gartner survey of US workers found 6 in 10 were distracted by the election. In addition, 22% reported the election has had a big impact on their ability to do their jobs, and 43% have found it challenging to work with a colleague who holds different political opinions. In a study by Zety, 83.3% of people reported they have talked about politics at work. In addition, 22.1% have felt disrespected by co-workers due to their political beliefs and 37.5% felt uncomfortable at work because of political discussions. Clearly, a significant proportion of people are experiencing some spillover from politics into their work.
So how can you work effectively with people when you disagree or find yourself at opposite ends of the political spectrum? Here are five tips to consider.
Keep it separate
Put your work first. As an employee, your work comes first. Keep shared goals in mind and remind yourself about all the ways collaboration with your colleague is important. Prioritize the work, the objectives and the talents you each bring to the task at hand. Set politics aside and focus on the new ideas you’re developing together, the project you’re running and the outcomes you need to deliver.
Prioritize your relationships. To work more effectively and have a high degree of satisfaction, you’ll need to have positive relationships with your colleagues. When you feel greater levels of openness, trust and camaraderie, your fulfillment at work will soar. Politics will always be present outside of work, but don’t let it undermine your good experiences with colleagues. Put it aside and focus on appreciating the people around you, even if they don’t share the same political viewpoints.
But if politics comes into the workday…
You’ll want to keep politics away from work. But if it does enter the scene, here are additional ways to cope.
Assume good intentions. While putting politics aside will work most of the time, if it does seep into conversations, assume good intentions on the part of your colleague. Their views may be very different than yours, but you certainly share big goals like the desire for a healthy community, love for the children in your lives and care for family members. Know their views may be different, but their overall intentions are probably similar to yours. This commonality is powerful glue for the community and your relationship.
Consider they may not have the same information as you. Technology has played a significant role in shaping what we’re exposed to and the information we see. We select news sources and notifications based on our current interests—political and otherwise. In addition, algorithms in our social feeds increase the chances we see information which already matches our existing opinions. When you do a search, you will receive a different set of results than your colleague, friend or family member sitting next to you doing the same search at the same time. Coding drives what we’re exposed to. All this means that your co-workers may be seeing different information than you, and this may be partially why they’ve come to different conclusions—a reason to be patient and open in your conversations.
Seek to learn. If conversations about politics do come up, seek to learn from your coworker’s point of view. Ask questions to obtain new information (not just to make a point). Listen deeply not only to what they view as the right answer but to their “why” for that belief. Ensure there is space in the dialogue for plenty of real exchange. Seek new and diverse viewpoints that will help you reflect on your own ideas and develop your thinking.
According to an old saying, real intelligence is when you’re able to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time. It’s true. We can develop our own maturity and understand our own thinking better by exposing ourselves to new ideas and giving people around us space to have diverse opinions as well. The skills of listening, debating, learning and compromising don’t have to be lost arts. We can find new pathways to all of these with colleagues—and build our relationships in the process.
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